Why I am an atheist — AJ Milne

I suppose the most honest answer I could start with is, really: ‘I’m
not particularly sure’.

I mean, I can give you pretty decent logical reasons you should
be, and I should be, and everyone else should be. It’s evident enough
to me that those claiming to believe in gods don’t really have any
remotely good reasons to do so, and as other accounts have pointed
out, here: that should be perfectly sufficient. Logically at least.

But by ‘I’m not particularly sure’, what I’m saying is: I’m not sure
how it is I’m one of those who noticed that, why it is, apparently,
that I cared. It seems to me that a lot of people equally in the
position to notice and to care just don’t, for whatever reason.

There was a discussion some months back at Ophelia’s place* on whether
for some people it’s just innate–whether the methods religions use to
persuade, and indoctrinate, for whatever reason, just don’t work on
some people at all the same way.

I’m not really sold either way on the conjecture that it’s genuinely
‘innate’**. But the mere observation that for some it just doesn’t
‘take’ does, at least, seem to fit my case pretty well.

For I was raised in a fairly religious household. I was a regular
churchgoer from as early as I can remember at all clearly. My mother
was an organist and choir director, and would later attend divinity
school, and, later in life, would become an Anglican priest (in
Canada, where yes, women could, by then, do that). Our family was very
involved, mostly through the musical side of things, from early on. I
played various instruments in and for the church, sang in the choir
for years, so on. Later, in my high school years, I’d also attend
youth groups, retreats, what have you.

But, oddly, despite all that immersion, I think I can honestly say: I
never really bought into the cosmology much at all. I could almost
write ‘I never bought a word of it’, but I’m not sure if that’s a
slight exaggeration. And it gets kinda hazy there, too, because in the
vaguely progressive/mainstream end of the church I inhabited, it was a
pretty hazy cosmology. Working out whether you really believed it or
not, exactly, would have necessitated defining that belief system well
enough that you actually could resolve an actually discernible
preference between actually discrete points of view, y’know… And
there was all this (I’d add: I suspect deliberately) built-in room
around that, truth is.

I mean, sure, you say and learn the creed and mouth the words that oh,
that’s terribly important and it’s all terribly foundational, this
believing in this specific saviour figure. Gotta mouth those words
specifically because that’s the formal definition. But at the same
time, in sects like that, congregations like that, no one’s really
that likely to freak out if you pull out the world ‘metaphor’ with
wild abandon and all over the damned place to avoid dealing with the
fact that, frankly, it was a pretty wild yarn and one hell of a hard
sale to make if anyone were so naive as to take it too literally. So,
provided, y’know, it was obvious enough to them you were doing so in
the interest, at least, of staying in the faith, if memory serves,
little trouble was likely to arise even if you needed to pull the
metaphor card until you wore your fingerprints off doing so. That, I’m
pretty sure, was and probably remains the deciding factor in coping
with that sort of thing socially, in such groups. If you were clearly
making excuses to stick with it and stick with us, fine, brother, do
what you have to do.

And that, incidentally, was a part of how I survived within the
faith as long as I did. I wrote another of these accounts, years ago,
for Positive Atheism’s ‘De-conversion stories’ series, and described
the god I believed in becoming steadily more Deist over time, the more
I thought about it. In retrospect, I’m not even sure that’s quite
right, tho’. I think it’s more: the more I got round to defining it at
all, the more I worked out: that’s the only place I could at all
safely put its boundaries. So the god, as it revealed itself, slipped
into the gaps until it all but disappeared, essentially revealing it
had never really been there in the first place.

Anyway: notwithstanding that probably irreducible haziness, among the
things I can say at all definitely about this is: I do very
clearly remember worrying and for some time, and in at least my early
teens or late tweens about the rather obvious fact that I really
didn’t so much believe at any level. Or at least not at any level that
made my involvement in nor identification with the community
particularly defensible. I mean, I couldn’t even particularly sell
myself even on the utility of it–even in ‘believing in belief’, to
borrow a phrase–which seemed to be like the last gap/lowest rung you
could hang your philosophical hat on and still have any vaguely
coherent reason for even being there. And I think I can say I remember
worrying pretty steadily about that.

Seriously, I think it may have even become a bit of an obsession for a while.

Dunno. I may be overstating that. I do remember anxiety, but I also
remember it waxed and waned. I mean, I’d swing a bit around how big a
problem it was, though never getting far from the concern. There were
competing notions afoot, there, and that gave some room, for the cost
of a little conflictedness–as there was some stuff saying having the
unquestioning faith of a little child was a good thing, others saying
struggling with doubt was just part of the inevitable reality of
religious life, a test of your spiritual mettle, roughly. And see also
Donne’s ‘A Hymn To God the Father’, stanza III…

Yeah, that bit: I have a sin of fear. I remember feeling an at once
alarming and reassuring flash of recognition, the first time I
happened across that work, wondering: ‘Okay… Does that mean what I
think it does… ‘Cos man, I’ve pretty much mouthed that prayer
myself, a few times…’ And see also: Lord I disbelieve; help thou
mine unbelief…

And I had mouthed that, if in more colloquial, modern English, and,
okay, not really particularly (obviously) being terribly convinced
anyone was listening–and remember sometimes wishing I could
just believe, that somehow I could be even halfway convinced, because
man, that would have made things so much less stressful.

That was a weird place to be in, I remember thinking, even then, too.
Wanting to believe. I could probably have written paragraphs
even then on the very weirdness of that phrase. ‘Wanting to
believe’… But howinhell could I possibly have a choice in
what I really believe, anyway? Me, I never much felt like I
did. It seemed to me it either made sense and I could buy it, or it
just didn’t. And this, no matter how I squinted at it, it just never
really did. It seemed to me no matter how much I mouthed the words,
I’d always be thinking: ‘I’m fooling myself, and I know it too well.’
Saying you believe? That, sure, you could do that. I,
obviously, did that all the time. But, just as obviously, that wasn’t
quite the same thing.

And so as to this alleged value of ‘struggling with doubt’, such
reassurances rarely rang as anything other than hollow, for me. I
wasn’t ‘struggling with doubt’. Me, I think I was more ‘built entirely
of incredulity’.

And yeah, that nagging suspicion–hell, let’s call it more an
unyielding conviction I eventually just could no longer conceal from
myself–that I was just fooling myself even bothering–that was
everpresent. And I can very definitely remember occasionally
actually sitting in pews, thinking, very directly: ‘Man, but do I ever
feel ridiculous, being here. Let’s face it, this is just
something I’m doing do because that’s what everyone agrees are the
rules, but I bet half the people in here are thinking exactly what I
am, and like me, they’re here because they figure they have to be.’ I
used to wonder if, had I stood up and said, ”Kay, look, everybody, we
all know this is a crock; let’s just stop pretending and just go home’
if half the building would have left with me***. And, honestly, I
think one of the reasons I stayed so involved in music and so on was,
that way, I didn’t have to sit there, in the pew, with time to
think about that, feeling like a chump, the whole time. I mean, if
you’ve got to get the damned french horn through its solo, or nail the
bass vocal in The Messiah, you’re a little too busy to get too hung up
on those sorts of anxieties. Y’know… focus on the technical
challenge; it’s way less trouble to the brain.

That aside, and whether or not I can really say I ever particularly
believed, one more thing that I can say with solid certainty about
this is: I always felt like a huge asshole arguing for it.

I’m not kidding about that. At all. This part, I remember vividly, and
this part shaped my life then and ever since, and I’ll come back to
it, in a bit.

It was a feeling of guilt, a very nagging, palpable one. Like, really,
I knew better than this, but professing to believe was just the easy
thing to do. It was what was expected of me, and I was already in deep
enough in that social circle, and so much of that community’s and my
family’s approval hinged on my saying that stuff, and so I was taking
the easy out, mouthing the words, making the excuses. I decline to
call them arguments; the term is too flattering. The more-revealing
word ‘apologetics’, that, y’know, that might be more fair.

Anyway, what made it worse, and what made me feel even more like an
asshole was: I’m pretty sure I wasn’t half bad at it. I’d always been
pretty verbally quick, fairly widely-read, and so I could argue the
case in the vague terms I still figured I could defend with some
reasonable skill. But all the while thinking as I pulled each
rhetorical feint, internally, something like: ‘Ouch… let’s hope they
don’t think as hard about this one as I have, ‘cos let’s face it, I
know it’s bullshit.’ And as a slight aside–but I think an
illustrative one–I still wonder sometimes if that’s how a good
defense lawyer with a total rat bastard of a client feels. Y’know…
you realize perfectly well the guy’s a generally sleazy, appalling,
disaster of a human being and if you get him off the hook someone’s
probably going to die or get robbed or whatever again, but
dammit, it’s your job. So you do your best and he gets off on a
technicality. And then he pumps your hand exuberantly in thanks, then
gleefully heads out the courtroom door and straight for the city park
full of vulnerable children.

And you’re standing there watching him go, thinking: ‘Great…
Great… I did that… Yay, me.’

Anyway, following from this, and moving on a bit: people talk
sometimes about religion as a solace from the harsh realities of the
world. The funny thing for me is: looking back now, I think, against
the background of this discomfiture, this was hardly my experience. It
was rather the inverse.

As in, on the contrary, for me, religion was actually kinda a misery.
Being expected to profess this bizarrely disjointed tangle of a line
frequently felt like it was twisting my brain into a very painful
pretzel. I felt like I was lying–to myself and everyone else. All.
The. Time.

And why was I doing so? Again, really, just because it was,
relatively, easy. Because I didn’t want to be arguing endlessly with
my parents, which is what I figured would happen if I finally called
it quits, said to hell with it. Because the minister’s daughter and
the blonde soprano were both absolutely lovely. And because, finally,
I was a coward, and I just didn’t want to rock the boat. So it’s go
along, y’know, play the part. And because the church ladies and the
youth group leaders are all so flattering, and they’re all happily
fussing over you and trying to decide: our golden boy here, should he
be a lawyer? Some of those are kinda evil by reputation, sure, but
maybe he’d be one of the good ones… Or a minister,

So religion was my secret misery, but, oddly enough, what solace I
found from that, I found in fields those who repeat that chestnut on
solace and misery more generally would associate with those miseries
and that storied harsh reality, if anything. For, outside religion, in
the sciences they taught in school, in math and so on–indeed, in
almost everything that wasn’t religion, from geology to
how you added up a grocery bill–I found, relatively speaking,
glorious, simple, painless clarity.

I mean, hey, in many of these subjects, you got to hold forth on
points of view that actually made sense! Talk about luxury. And,
seriously, stuff touching on the sciences, that was practically
addictive, given that contrast. Honestly, the amazing thing about it
was: it just made so very much sense. I remember getting into a
minor squabble around here on the blog some months or years back about
how hard it is to grasp the concept of biological evolution across
deep time the first time you’re told about it, and having to say,
seriously, I don’t ever remember it giving me any stress at
all, and how honestly, I even have a hard time believing it bothered
anyone that much. I still have to confess to that reflexive
reaction, thinking about it.

But then, maybe, the thing is, for me, again, it was all about the contrast.

And that was just the beginning. Y’know, we’re talking elementary,
early high school, here, so it’s mostly science taught as a set of
facts we figure we mostly know and a little bit around the edges on
how you actually work that out, a little bit of simple experimentation
at the styrofoam cups and papier-mâché volcano level. And sure, the
great thing there is, again, mostly just how bloody much sense it all
makes on the A and B therefore C level.

But then there are also already a few mentions, here and there, even
fairly early on–and of course this the very alert budding amateur
theologian can’t help noticing–about the philosophy behind it and the
method and the practice and this notion of thoroughgoing skepticism
and how at the end, it’s all open for revision, all open for
reconsideration. You make your case or you don’t and even after you
and pretty much everyone else figures you have made that case,
someone might still yet unmake it (or greatly refine it), years
later. And then in high school we happen to get to the good chemisty
teacher who goes to the trouble to explain to the class that look,
this electron shell orbital model I’m teaching you, this is really
better understood as just an approximation, a simplification. And
there’s work done and work still going on right now that greatly
refines or possibly even completely upsets this; you can use it for
now for practical purposes, but do keep that in mind.

And speaking again of contrast, it’s dawning on me from all of this
pretty early: far from this oddly at once arrogant and elusive
transcendent faithful certainty you were supposed to somehow seek (or
be happy enough seeking but failing to find… like I said: the
messages were a bit mixed) in the religion I knew, the sciences were
perfectly happy with people who could say ‘Y’know… We don’t actually
entirely know that yet’, when that was honest, and when that was
appropriate, given what had built up around the field. Or just
‘Y’know, I don’t know that yet.’ Or: ‘We’re not entirely sure,
but the evidence sure seems to be leaning this way right now.’ They
had this crazy notion in there that you qualified your certainty based
on the evidence you’ve mustered so far. And beyond that, people
actually seemed to live it, bizarrely enough.

And better still, notwithstanding that perfectly reasonable and
admirable caution, they actually had evidence that didn’t look
like, in a courtroom, if you brought that in, they’d just laugh at you
and send you back to grade school to learn what evidence actually is.
I wasn’t cringing at the very thought of having to explain this stuff
to someone, defend this to someone who might be paying too much
attention. And the teachers teaching that stuff and the authors
writing the pop-level science books I was reading weren’t expecting me
to interpret at-once abstruse and suspiciously tendentious passages
from thousand year old manuscripts and ask some dodgy inner voice that
never seemed particularly audible or distinguishable from my own
preconceptions to guide me right in grasping whatinhell it might
actually mean, if anything particularly coherent, in the latter
half of the 20th century.

On the contrary, in the sciences, you were given nice, logical, cause
and effect type chains of reason you could parse and tease apart and
test for yourself to your heart’s content. Formulae, even, sometimes.
Frequently, you could even doodle in the margin of your notebook,
check it out yourself, ask yourself, ‘kay, does this follow? And,
again, and better, if it didn’t, you were supposed to say so,
and it was understood: sometimes, just maybe, it may not be
your failure to grasp it, but an actual error made by the author. Some
of this could even be wrong, and never mind who wrote it down, and how
many letters are after their name. And you’re allowed to say so.
Beyond this, you’re <>expected to. There’s just none of this
stuff going on. And no one’s gonna flip out, say: ‘but this is the
word of the god/watch your mouth’. And the explanations for anything,
if I chose to pursue them at length, kept proving deep and long and
sensible and satisfying and kept going back to what people had really
measured and seen and documented. As opposed to going back to: ‘Well,
see, we’ve got this conflicted, confused, ancient mythologized account
here that, sure, makes rather less logical sense on analysis than does
the physics of the average Warner Brothers cartoon… but… anyway…
well… y’know… have faith.’

I loved that for the very contrast. I seriously did. It was an
absolute breath of fresh air. As one early, specific, stand-out
example, I don’t even remember how old I was when I first read Sagan’s
Cosmos, but that was one of those truly, beautiful,
genuinely inspiring things. What really struck me was how the
awe-inspiring vision of the universe it described was so oddly
juxtaposed by reminders from the humans writing it, that, look, we’re
just getting started on this; who even knows what else is out
there, what we might be getting wrong, tho’ we’re always working on
it. I remember lots of: ‘Okay, we’re guessing, but this is what we’ve
got so far’ in there. And geez, even the wildest-ass guesses in there
still looked a lot more solid and reasoned and than most of
what I had to deal with on Sunday. And even when Sagan would wander
off into his somewhat bizarre, imagined Encyclopaedia
, it was always clear enough: this part is frankly wild
conjecture at the border of science fiction. No one’s going to blow a
gasket if you say: ‘Seems a bit of a stretch’. We know. It’s fine. Say
it if you feel you must, if you think that’s what you’re adding up,
here. There aren’t all these little hidden, tacit, socially-determined
lines lying around on how far you can go. No one’s gonna look at you
sideways like maybe you’ve been exchanging pillow talk with some
mediaeval demon if you do so.

But why, again, it struck me that way: this I don’t know. It seems to
me: what I was exposed to and when isn’t that wildly different from
any number of people who seemed quite happy to remain in the faith.
And going back to that ‘innate’ conjecture: okay, maybe it is
that, in part. It may just something about how my brain works.
It does have this restless quality, it seems to me; it’s always trying
to put smaller things together into big things–like one of those
people who gets obsessed by jigsaw puzzles, except with ideas. And in
religion, it may be, for obvious reasons, this leads very rapidly to
such trouble.

Anyway, as a caveat, and backing this up a bit as I read back on it, I
should say: yes, that guilt I talked about in claiming to believe was
a misery, absolutely. The feeling of just being completely full of it,
it did, overall, build up to that, too. But my life in and around the
church wasn’t otherwise particularly awful. And there were some mostly
pretty decent people I rubbed elbows with, at least.

But moving on, and circling back around to it: I really think it was
that guilt that finally ended my calling myself a believer. It just
got to be too much of weight, the way I remember it.

And, honestly–and sure, probably less flatteringly–when I got away
to university, in the new social circles I was in, it suddenly got
somewhat easier. And I mean, I’d like to say I pulled
some atheist Martin Luther moment and nailed a proclamation to the
cathedral door, but… hardly. It was a distinctly more surreptitious
business, honestly, and for quite some time. I do recall a fairly
definite moment when I said to myself ‘Enough/I’m done with
this nonsense’, and yes, I do remember it being a palpable relief, but
it was also a very private thing. Outside that, I started only by
getting, sure, pretty direct about it when asked in person, but only
to those I figured wouldn’t lose it on me. As, let’s face it, it was a
bit embarrassing, in certain circles especially, after my history. An
admission, finally, sure, I’d been kinda full of shit, and for years.
Not exactly a glorious moment, though yes, it was also pretty

It also took me years to come out to my parents. It’s not an
easy thing, telling a mother who’s gone into the priesthood, for
crying out loud–and one of not too many women at the time actually to
have done so, after a long life of working toward that, and dealing
with no small amount of sexism and on and on to have got that far,
too–telling her, y’know, Mom… as conflictedly proud as I am of you
that you’ve at least followed your dream, I can’t be particularly
with ya on an awful lot of that, y’know? Notwithstanding that
my own conscience had driven me where I’ve had to go, and none too
gently, it still felt inevitably a little like a betrayal. She did cry
when I finally told her. And I remain not particularly motivated to
hassle her too hard over theology. Call it hypocrisy if you will that
I don’t, but in this real world, she does her thing, I do mine, I

Oh, and about that ‘liberating’ thing: I’d had some notions that I
could expand upon that, and in several other drafts and takes on this
thing, I did that. I could go on at much greater length, if anyone
were to demand as much, about what a bloody fucking relief it
finally was, just to really speak my mind on some of this stuff, feel,
finally, that (okay, on this one thing, anyway), I finally wasn’t
completely full of shit. I could go all rhapsodic, beyond this, on
things about the very real and sometimes very harsh universe that
continue to delight and fascinate me–to take one example, the
embarrassment of riches that fall from the fact that these are first
few years in the history of our peculiar species that we’ve begun to
glimpse the orbits of planets in other solar systems.

I will make one concession to that urge: let me assure you,
accordingly, that the proper music for properly appreciating this
universe is that of (Mr.) Tom Waits. As it’s sometimes rough and
unfinished and ragged and half the time the song ends horribly with
someone dying or leaving or worse. But it’s gorgeous, every second,
all the same.

Beyond doing that, I’m going to pass on the rhapsodies, however. For
that’s really not where I wish to place my emphasis, here. Sure, that
does happen to be true. It was a relief to finally get out,
you’d better believe it.

But what I’d really rather emphasize is what a fucking miserable deal
religion was, in retrospect, in my experience, and what a long
miserable slog it was to get through all that mess to a
(qualified, relative) clarity.

See, from my point of view, that’s the real story, here. So, no, this
isn’t going to be atheist salvation literature. This is not
meant to be a cheerful story.

This is, rather, meant to be more in the mood of a Tom Waits song.

So, rather than rhapsodies about the beauty of the universe approached
through the methods of science and/or the freedom that comes with
casting off shackles of dogma or other such flights of celebratory
prose, please take this part home with you: I remain active and
as vocal as I do about my atheism not because I am particularly proud
of what I have become (such as that is), but rather because I will
always be a little ashamed of what I was, and I will always
feel that some penance is probably still due. Indeed, writing this,
it’s not really been a whole hell of a lot of fun. For some moments,
honestly, it’s been a little upsetting, all over again, having to
relive some of that, even with decades of distance. Thinking again
about the sheer two-facedness of it all, again: no fun. Cringes were
induced. Seriously, it really is embarrassing. And the notion of
submitting it for publication, well, it’s not entirely comfortable. It
really isn’t.

See, if I’m at all honest about this, yes, I have to confess I sure as
hell did know better. For years. And years. And years. And
years. And sure, there would have been costs to leaving (and,
eventually, there were, and some remain, including incredible friction
with certain believers especially in my personal life), and sure, I
guess I could be a little easier on myself thinking of that. And sure,
I was young.

But still: it burns like shame, thinking of it, even now. All those
times I swallowed my misgivings, lent my shoulder to propping up a
line I knew too well was utter bullshit. And the few times,
especially, for some reason, I wound up explaining it to people
not particularly exposed to the religion, but not so much
confrontational, either–just curious. As every single one of those
times, yes, I just did my dutiful believer duty, and found my ways to
paper over the silly bits, somehow managed to represent myself as
actually finding it sensible enough.

Seriously, I vividly and painfully recall that doing that, especially,
was like the most insanely awkward and miserable thing I’d ever had to
do, for some reason. Probably because, y’know, explaining it to
someone from really outside meant I had to go back over the
whole damned silly thing myself, and nothing makes it look sillier,
honestly, than that. It was like the whole time this voice in the back
of my head was just screaming: ‘Just tell them… Tell ’em you
know it’s bollocks and you want out… Hell, tell ’em you’re just
there to meet girls or something… Whatever… Even if that’s
not quite the whole truth, at least it’s the lesser lie… But
anyway, tell them. It’ll feel way less uncomfortable than
playing this whole game out again, and, fuck, possibly actually even
inadvertently talking them into joining you in this fucking
purgatory. Do you want that on your conscience, too? Sure, you
can slide by on selling this crazy thing as plausible, yet again, and
avoid for that little bit longer having to contradict your last many
years of living, but fuck, man, do you really want to?’****

And adding to that discomfiture: I was always the bright kid in
school, y’know? People expected me to have things figured out. Kinda
guy if you can’t get the homework question, ask him, he’ll sure

And on most things, y’know, I could just tell them. Hey, I was a
helpful type; I didn’t mind.

But then it would get to religion, and I always felt a bit like I was
betraying them. Like, sorry, yes, now that you’ve come to trust me
because obviously I can tell you how to handle that there differential
equation, now I’m going to talk out of the other side of my
mouth and sell you this ridiculous line I don’t even
particularly believe, because, yes, I lack the guts to call this how I
really see it. Sorry. Yes, I’m kinda a complete asshole that

On the bright side, I do rather doubt I particularly had much of a
hand in converting anyone. I think. Not sure. I mean, seeing as my
tendency in doing this was toward the whole ‘well, it’s a
philosophy/tradition/you don’t have to get too literal about it’
school, I don’t know how hard that might have pushed anyone. Tho’ a
possibility or two are out there, I guess.

And that, too, I cringe a bit considering.

Anyway. I’m going to call that the end.

Consider it a cautionary tale. File under ‘places not to spend your childhood’.

AJ Milne


* Butterflies and Wheels, now also a Freethought Blogs peer.

** Alternate explanations: I did bump into folk over time from other
sects and persuasions.I had a fairly close friend for a while who was,
of all things, from a Jehovah’s Witness family. Dunno if that had
something to do with it. Seeing some of the drama around that, within
them and between them and the, y’know, less cultish sects, maybe that
had an effect. Hard to say. There’s also the fact that for a while,
very early on, we attended this community church thing run by a
Baptist minister, and the odd contrasts between practises and
doctrines there and later in Anglican communions were inevitably
visible. Could have provided a nudge, unseated the whole thing a
little more. Finally, late in this whole progression, after going away
to school, I attended a very much ‘High Anglican’ church for a bit,
and saw yet another reference point for contrast. There’s this
comment someone made once: where there is religious pluralism, atheism
will arise from the very confusion. Tho, again: I honestly dunno.

*** Note: we’ve had some pretty tense back-and-forths in the threads
around here over how likely is the underlying assumption that there’s
that many unbelievers actually ‘in the closet’ and professing to
believe. I’m not commenting on that, here. I’m just saying: yeah, I
sure did have that thought, at the time.

**** Incidentally, I still haven’t yet read Dennett’s brief on
unbelieving priests in any great length. The very thought, honestly,
of a whole life lead like the one I once knew–and one,
further, on which your professional salary now depends–kinda fills me
with this twitchy horror. A little too close to home, probably.


  1. clippyclip says

    5360 words and four footnotes. Sorry Mr Milne, this is asking too much. I liked “The House At Pooh Corner” though

  2. jaybee says

    I’m sure it was fun to reflect and write, but sorry, “tl;dr” was invented for this one.

  3. says

    *Stands and applauds.*

    So much of what you said resonated with me. I grok. And agree. Especially on the contrast between science and religion – or rather, attitudes about/within the two. Oh, hell, yes!

  4. David Marjanović says

    No, no, it’s not too long. Read it, you’ll like it.

    It’s not necessarily too long, but it’s in AJ’s typical monotonous style with lots of filler particles, with sentences so long they each contain several digressions from the topic. The weather is dark, I’m tired, I gradually gave up about 3 to 4 screens in.

    The footnotes are good!

  5. haijinboreal says

    Although, I do feel that Mingus’ “The Clown” seems somewhat more à propos…

  6. Sastra says

    I thought that was brilliant. And brilliantly written, too — as expected. I enjoy his style of writing.

    Perish the thought — AJ Milne is never tl;dr! Well, ok, almost never — and certainly not in this case. One of the better essays, I think.

    Although I wasn’t raised in any religion and was taught to answer “freethinker” when questioned, I also felt cognitive dissonance when contrasting religious (actually, in my case, “spiritual”) truths with how I thought about everything else. At some point, the vagueness and ambiguity changed from being a feature to a bug. Or, maybe, it vaguely and ambiguously flipped back and forth till it finally settled on one side.

  7. Jamie says

    I also remember WANTING to believe, and I feel that’s unusual, coming from a fairly irreligious background. I think that society (though I’m in the U.S. and you’re in Canada, I think our societies are pretty similar) around us has subconscious messages about what a good thing belief is that we feel we need it to be good people. I also remember wanting to believe in Santa Claus, but like you, neither Santa nor God really “took.”

    On a side note about spending a miserable existence wasting your life in religious belief and unbelieving priests: my husband’s stepfather’s brother grew up in a secular (and what sounds pretty atheistic) household, but went into the priesthood as an adult. My husband’s stepfather assures me that his brother is a very intelligent man (and who he described as the “king of the nerds” at their high school), but chose to live as a priest for various reasons (such as not having to interact with women in a romantic way and not having people question it). He says they grew up with an atheist dad who always encouraged critical thinking and introspection. However, he doesn’t lead fundamentalist Christians. This area is a pretty liberal place and most religious people are all feel-good, community-centered believers.

  8. says

    Excellent. I just read it on-screen at the library, but I’d submit that it is not “tl;dr” but rather “po;rl” (print off; read later). Well done, Milne.

  9. linnaeus says

    That was one that sang to the heart. I read it in one go and recognized so much as my own progression. Well done.

  10. Dhorvath, OM says

    I don’t rightly know how you do that AJ, but it’s a thing that makes me smile. Well done.

  11. says

    Thanks all. Nice to hear it resonated, here and there. I know it’s no pamphlet.


    … I think that society (though I’m in the U.S. and you’re in Canada, I think our societies are pretty similar) around us has subconscious messages about what a good thing belief is that we feel we need it to be good people.

    Yeah, I’d think. Or I guess I’d say: I’d expect it’d be one of those things just in the air, anyway. Your experience is clearer evidence than mine, tho’, I guess obviously.

    Minor update: I did finally get ’round to reading Dennett and LaScola’s unbelieving clergy thing, sometime after writing this. And it was a bit painful, as I expected. But I also kinda figured after getting through doing this thing (as mentioned: also uncomfortable), there might be a bit less sting. Which may have been true.

  12. says

    To those who think this tl and dr it, not everything has to be reduced to tweets and soundbites. I found this well worth the read.